Water — or actually the lack thereof — came close to saturating the agenda at an educational tailgate meeting presented by the San Joaquin Valley Winegrowers Association in Madera.

The meeting opened with reminders that the clock is ticking for growers to join coalitions to comply with state regulations on surface and ground water. It quickly evolved into talk of how to manage vineyards and water delivery systems in a year when water is in short supply.

Attendees heard from lenders, consultants, insurance providers and sales people. Nearly all used the D word — drought — in their presentations.

 

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Rick Foell, California territory manager for Suterra, was particularly blunt in his discussion of integrated pest management, the likelihood of more pest and disease problems due to dry conditions and the likelihood of lower yields.

“The one positive,” he said, “is that smaller berry size could mean a better skin to juice ratio, meaning (this year’s wine) could be higher quality, but there might not be a lot. And the lower yields could mean higher prices.”

Foell said growers may need to resort to another form of IPM: “Insurance Pest Management.”

His assumption is that plants are or will be under more stress and that that stress will make them vulnerable to more pests and diseases. “We may see bugs across more of the fields, and we’ll see different bugs,” he said, giving the example of brown marmorated stink bug.

“That’s normally is not an issue,” Foell said. “But it’s a general feeder and eats anything with a seed. That means grapes.”

He also expected higher mite pressures and said growers may have to budget for more sprays. “Because (nearby open land) will go through a quick green up and a quick burn down,” Foell said, leafhoppers and other pests will quickly move to “where the water is.” And that includes vineyards.

 

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Nematodes, he said, will likewise navigate to where the water is as well – along the roots of vines, for example.

Steps for managing vines this year, he said, should include “smaller shots of fertigation and irrigation” over longer periods. “You need to fertilize for what is hanging on the vine,” he said, adding that there needs to be more monitoring for disease and pest problems.

Deborah Miller, president of the Deerpoint Group Inc., discussed the increasing challenges to water quality in the Valley and the need to address plugging in irrigation systems from mineral deposits, algae and bacteria and other sources.

“Before, you might have been able to flush these out,” she said. “That’s not an option any more. You don’t want to waste water flushing.”